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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Durga Puja 2019: Themed pandals, Kolkata street food, old-world charm and more for the modern-day traveller

Durga Puja 2019: There was palpable excitement in the air as we entered the city a day before the most-loved festival began on a thunderous note.

travel Updated: Oct 08, 2019 13:06 IST
Saumya Sharma
Saumya Sharma
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Durga Puja 2019: Themed pandals, Kolkata street food, old-world charm and more for the modern-day traveller.
Durga Puja 2019: Themed pandals, Kolkata street food, old-world charm and more for the modern-day traveller.
         

As a first timer at the beginning of Durga Puja in Kolkata, it was an experience that is going to be a part of my long-term memory. Having visited the City of Joy only last year soon after Pujo festivities were over, followed by a visit during one of the most crucial times of the city, I knew what I had been missing all this while. There was palpable excitement in the air as we entered the city a day before the most-loved festival began on a thunderous note.

Durga Puja, also referred to as Durgotsava, is not just a religious get-together, it’s also synonymous with the feeling of togetherness amidst great food, music, dance and the popular adda sessions. The much-awaited festival is largely linked with the beauty of larger-than-life idols of Maa Durga, the usual custom of all-night pandal hopping and the fervour that’s spread city-wide (now also seen in other parts of India, like Mumbai and Delhi).

The Thums Up Toofani Gang, led by Kolkata film industry celebrities Abir Chatterjee and Priyanka Sarkar were our pandal-hopping company on October 4. The winning gang was shortlisted on the day of Mahalaya in Kolkata after a series of activities and contests like challenging obstacle courses, dancing to the beats of dhaks with an open bottle of Thums Up and more. We jumped on this bandwagon and went about exploring pandals ranging from concept ones like the one at Tridhara to the most-traditional in Bagh Bazaar.

Speaking about themed pandals, we entered a re-creation of a forest-like area adorned by Maa in the centre of the room and the ambient sounds of birds chirping. The idea was simple, and based on the ‘Birdman of India’, on whom Shankar’s Robot 2.0 is based with Akshay Kumar playing the titular role as the anti-hero opposite Superstar Rajinikanth. Birds have been dying due to the widespread use of technology and with 5G coming soon, there’s more scare in nature. Hence these birds have come with a plea to Maa Durga to save them from this adversity.

 

This was followed by the complete ensemble consisting of Maa’s idol along with other Gods. The message behind this pandal was to save water, an important resource that’s fast depleting and it’s the need of the hour to now be mindful of how we’re all misusing our resources. Tridhara’s pandal was another themed pandal which showed Durga Maa in the faces of several women who have outperformed their contemporaries and made a mark in their respective fields. As one walked from right to left, and left to right, the 3D effects on the pictures of these women showed Durga Maa within - like all of us have shakti that is waiting to be unleashed to fight for one’s right and most importantly, the voice that empowers others.

My most favourite, however, remains the traditional idol at Bagh Bazaar, located in Northern Kolkata, best-known for its old-world charm, heritage buildings and close proximity to the iconic Howrah Bridge. If you visit Kolkata, add a walk around these parts of Kolkata as a must-do. Add an early morning tram ride, kulhad chai from decades or centuries-old shops and the mouth-watering rosogullas and sandesh available in a variety of flavours. Meat-lovers especially enjoy mutton chops and dimer devil while phuchkas, jhalmuri and churmur are easily the loves of every street-food lover’s lives.

 

Kolkata is a must-visit on every avid traveller’s bucket list, but when done during the seemingly cacophonic Durga Puja week, it’s a experience one needs to check off their proverbial lists in life. The fervour and the frenzy can be described nothing short of a haven for the culture connoisseur, amidst the beats of dhak and scent of shiuli or the aroma of freshly-fried luchis served with aloo sabzi, baigun bhaja (fried eggplant), shukto, a dollop of kasundi, (lots of) khejur aamshotto chutney, followed by mishit doi and rosogulla or sandesh.

 

Food is an important part of our culture notwithstanding the geographies, and Durga Puja rituals too comprise preparing and serving bhog during the festivities.

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